Staunton, February 4 – The recent trial of Nikita Belykh showed something most Russians don’t want to admit: They do not have a state in the modern sense but rather live under a medieval system in which officials aren’t restricted to using appropriated funds but instead seek to extract money for themselves and their fiefdoms, Mikhail Pozharsky says.
The Moscow commentator notes that Belykh admitted to taking on three separate occasions 200,000 US dollars from two business figures, an action that prosecutors said and the court agreed made him guilty of corruption. But that isn’t how Belykh or others like him see it (blog.newsru.com/article/02feb2018/state).
At his trial, Belykh insisted that he took these funds not for himself but rather to remodel the facades of several buildings and some fountains. Thus he wasn’t violating the law: he was doing what he had to in order to do his job.
Pozharsky agrees: “Belykh isn’t lying. It is certain that part of these funds went to the needs of the city; and this is a standard means of covering such needs – approximately the same thing is done in approximately all regions” of the country.
But what the former governor’s admission shows is how far Russia is from having a contemporary state. In such states, officials can only spend appropriated funds for the things that the legislature and executive have approved. They can’t go out looking for money from businessmen or others.
But in Russia today, he continues, that is not the case. Someone is given a place and encouraged to extract resources for his locale, for himself and for those higher ups to whom he reports. In short, “we are dealing with the pattern of the 16th century when a position was not a collection of functions but rather ‘a place for feeding.’”
That leads to a disconnect. What it is customary to call corruption in modern states, in Russia represents “the very essence of social relations,” Pozharsky says. Those charged with corruption are simply unlucky because such cases reflect “selective arbitrariness” since “when everyone violates the formal rules,” only those chosen to be charged for other reasons will be.
This is one aspect of a far larger problem, the Moscow commentator says. “The terminology of the present-day world (corruption, bureaucracy, and so on) is a poor fit for Russian reality. Here these words are no more than words which mask a tacky system of medieval patron-client ties.”
The thing is that “we lack ‘a state’ in the present-day sense of this word – ‘state’ after all doesn’t derive from the word ‘lord’ so even here there is a problem with language. And thus the main demand of society should be that a state be created.”